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Elementary Classroom Teacher to Startup Co-Founder

Ever thought of a great idea for an app?

An invention that would solve a common problem?

Yep?

So did my wife and I.

Below some of my learnings I've gained on our journey from "idea" to having thousands of educators using our software (Class Creator.io).

Hopefully it inspires you to take the first steps on your journey!

Cheers,
Tim Bowman
Co-Founder of Class Creator (and Classroom Teacher)


1. Find an idea….actually find a problem.

Problems are the mother of invention.

If you're thinking about starting a business focus on the problems at your work and personal life.

Then don't find a solution.

Instead, submerge yourself in the problem as deeply as you can. The more time you spend in the problem the better your solution will be.

Creating classes is a common problem in many schools around the world. Below are some of the most common challenges when making classes:

Time Consuming- Making great classes takes a long time. Collecting data, collating, first draft, second draft,unforeseen enrolment/find a mistake...start again. It takes days, or even weeks, during one of the busiest times of the year.

Balanced classes- Trying to find the "perfect class" can be like trying to find a needle in a haystack...blindfolded. Classes with a gender, behavior, academics or special needs imbalance are not uncommon.

Personal- Sometimes teachers can "look after" their favourites (students, colleagues or parents).

Mistakes- Most classes were made with sticky-notes or strips of paper. It was extremely difficult to identify separations and pairings.

Lost History- Student A and B are separated in Grade 2. Then the teacher who knows why they were separated moves to another school. A and B are placed together in Grade 3 and it's not good for anyone.

So, that was our problem to solve.

Old Way...Strips of Paper or Sticky Notes

New Way...Class Creator


2. Motivation and Starting!

If I had a dollar for every person who said:

"I can't believe no one thought of this sooner" or, "I actually thought about making something like Class Creator a few years back" :-)

I first thought of creating student placement software in 2012 while playing a game of pool with my brother (a computer scientist)…and I did nothing about it.

The key is starting.

Taking the first step is huge!

Send an email (this was my first step). Write a list. Sketch a design. Ask a potential user/customer. Then let momentum carry you.

My reasons for starting were:

1) I love finding better ways to do things. It’s like being an explorer or inventor. We have actually become inventors by applying for a patent on our software and method.

2) Like any parent I want to provide for my family. Starting a business that solved a real problem seemed like a good place to start.

3) Class Creator has the potential to have a global impact on education. For any educator there isn’t much more exciting than having a positive impact on future generations.


3. Finding a Partner

This was the hardest part for us (my wife, Corinne, is the other co-founder).

We're both teachers, not software developers.

We knew the software was going to be very complex and require extremely strong security so we required an exceptional developer.

We started with one developer…and it didn’t work out. Our goals and expectations were not aligned. It was a huge decision to leave, especially after I'd only recently taken leave from teaching.

Serendipitously we found another develop that had been a family friend for over 20 years.

Karl had the experience of founding and running a 300+ employee digital agency and creating platforms for some of the world’s biggest companies. Not wanting to manage hundreds of staff anymore, Karl was very keen to work on the project and had all the skills, experience, vision and work ethic we needed. Karl is our Woz :-)

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4. Creating Class Creator

Creating classes can be broken into two (very complex) parts.

As per the "submerge yourself in the problem" methodology I spoke to educators from all over the globe focusing on the two areas:

1) What their goals are when making classes (Algorithm)
2) How they make classes (User Experience)

The Algorithm

Even the most basic mathematical view of creating classes is a daunting one...

100 Students ÷  Four Classes = Millions of Combinations

The algorithm is actually in the NP category, also know as “the hardest”.

With all the requirements that educators needed to make balanced classes the problem becomes extremely challenging. Friendships, pairings, separations, behaviour, academic and special needs all needed to be taken into account.

It’s possible to set a computer to search through the combinations for possible “fits” (this is called a Brute Force search).

We tried that but the results weren’t anywhere near what I would make as a teacher. They were balanced or averaged numerically, but they had lost the teacher touch.

Our next step was to teach a computer to think like a teacher/principal.

Congratulations educators! It turns out the logic we use to create classes is incredibly complex.

Computers think in black and white, while making classes is grey.

After working with a huge variety of schools, from all over the globe, we now have a massive dataset that allows us to test and tweak our algorithm instantly.

Our algorithm must be up to version 200+ by now as we’ve tweaked to get it to a point where it now makes classes we would be happy to teach.

The User Experience

Our goal has always been to make the process easy for educators by developing intuitive software. So much of the software in education is “clunky” and is clearly designed by software engineers…not educators.

We want our software to be different.

We want it to be powerful and for the user to take it for granted.

All the heavy lifting is hidden behind the curtain so the user experience is more like eating a cake, than cooking it.

We also know educators needed to be able to edit classes easily so we created a “drag ‘n’ drop” feature where alerts occur preventing errors that would previously cause a domino effect.

It has been a huge advantage knowing the problem from the inside. I guess that comes back to solving a problem that you have experience with.


5. Continuing to Find Motivation

I know…I’ve said it before…but you need a lot of motivation.

We have faced more challenges in making this application than I ever could have imagined.

I didn’t think it was going to be easy…but I had know idea it was going to be this much of a “ride”.

Constantly revisiting our core motivations (#2) has been integral to not giving up.

Two great questions to ask at moments of heighten emotion is

“Will this matter in 12 months?”

“What do we need to do to overcome this problem?”


6. Connecting to potential users.

Schools are incredibly busy places.

Many outside schools think teachers have it easy with all our holidays, but when we’re at school there is rarely a spare second. So to grab the attention of educators is a challenge we are facing now.

We officially launched at EduTECH in June 2015.

It was our first real opportunity to demonstrated Class Creator to teachers and principals that we didn't know.

To say I was nervous would be a huge understatement. Thankfully the feedback we received was outstanding.

It only took 60 seconds before they were saying “Where have you been all my life?”. The challenge is getting that bit of attention when educators are so incredibly busy.

We believe Class Creator is an awesome application that will save educators time in the short (making classes) and long-term (better classes = better outcomes all round). The tough part is to grab busy educators attention for a few seconds.

Your reputation is incredibly important in the education industry. One of the most exciting parts of our journey has been the word of mouth. We're incredibly proud that schools are referring us to their colleagues.

If you're interested in finding out more about Class Creator please visit our website or sign up for a free trial.

If you have any questions about taking your idea to the world please feel free to email me at tim@classcreator.io

Like this post? You might want to check out 6 Tech Terms that apply to Teaching


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Tim is a passionate educator. At times has been labelled a "Maverick" (amongst other things). He is also the founder of Class Creator and author of "88 Ways to Teach Effectively" (Out mid 2016).